World Health Organization joins hands with a number of countries globally to commemorate World Aids Day on December 1st every year.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the health campaign started by WHO in the year 1988. The red ribbon that symbolises solidarity with those living with AIDS was first used in 1991, when the world was witnessing extreme discrimination against patients with HIV. The theme for this year is “Know your status”, urging people in the age group of 13-65 to get HIV tests done at least once as a part of their routine check up. Another objective of this theme is to instigate policy makers to propagate  ‘health for all’ for HIV, tuberculosis and non-communicable diseases. The aura surrounding this disease was always mysterious starting from early 1900s. It started out as a fatal disease among homosexual African Americans and then spread to America among heterosexuals as well. It wasn’t until 1983 that the probable cause of AIDS was found and it was cited as an emerging global threat to public health. The production of antiretroviral drugs began on large scale in 2001 for highly affected areas like Africa where AIDS had become the largest cause of death. According to the data from WHO, about 35 million people have died from AIDS till date and 36.9 million were suffering from it at the end of 2017.

It’s important to know that even though HIV and AIDS are used interchangeably, they are not the same. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that deteriorates the immune system and, in extreme conditions, leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome) which is condition. It is also possible that a person with HIV may live a long productive life without contracting AIDS. Since HIV is a virus, it can be transferred from one person to another. The most common way through which HIV spreads is through bodily fluids, unprotected sex or shared needles. When HIV develops into AIDS, life expectancy drops significantly. But with improved medical facilities, it is now possible to stagnate the growth of HIV. In fact, 59% people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral drug treatment in the end of 2017.

Before we think of getting rid of HIV AIDS, we have to make it less of a taboo. We have to make combined efforts to talk about it publicly, like we would about any other disease, and to tell those suffering that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This year’s theme of ‘Know your status’ focuses on telling people that knowing about your HIV infection status is as normal as knowing your weight, height or haemoglobin. HIV should no longer be behind closed doors or in hushed voices. It’s basic knowledge about one’s body that he or she must have. We have to remember that knowing is status is important, and so is taking the required action after getting information on our status. The theme is in support of the 9.4 million people who live with undiagnosed HIV to “know their status”.

Saanica Wahal